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Published: Monday, 10/10/2011

Missing Morenci boys remembered

Family keeps hope alive 3 brothers will be found

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tanya Zuvers, mother of Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton, who have been missing since Nov. 27, 2010, is flanked by her daughters Courtney Derby, left, and Brittany Derby as they listen to a song during the prayer vigil in Wakefield Park. Tanya Zuvers, mother of Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton, who have been missing since Nov. 27, 2010, is flanked by her daughters Courtney Derby, left, and Brittany Derby as they listen to a song during the prayer vigil in Wakefield Park.
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MORENCI, Mich. -- Keeping alive the memories and the search for three missing local boys was the goal of a prayer vigil here Sunday.

About 100 people collected in Wakefield Park to pray, to hear tearful stories about Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton, and to be assured that family and friends will keep the pressure on until the search comes to closure.

"This isn't over and we will not have it over until the boys are home. We need to keep looking everywhere we go and we need to spread the word to others," said Kathye Herrera, a friend of the family of the three boys who disappeared nearly one year ago while visiting their father, John Skelton, at his home in Morenci, about 40 miles west of Toledo.

"Today the pain and the emptiness is just as great as it was Nov. 27, 2010," Ms. Herrera said of the family left behind, but she said the family's strength and determination have grown. "They will not give up until Andrew, Alex, and Tanner are home where they belong," she said.

The boys, aged 9, 7, and 5, respectively, at the time of their disappearance, were remembered fondly by their mother, Tanya Zuvers, 45; two older sisters, Brittany Derby, 24, and Courtney Derby, 20, and their grandmother Beverly Zuvers.

No one voiced the belief of law enforcement, that the boys are homicide victims of their father, but the awareness of that possibility was hinted at.

Hope that the boys will be found alive has motivated several aggressive efforts to publicize the boys' photos and details about them. The family was selling bracelets for $1 and T-shirts, with the words "Faith, Hope, Love," for $10, with the money to be used to buy magnet signs that can be attached to semitractor trailers to reach all over the country.

On hand were four women who participated in the recent Fireball Run Adventurally as members of two of the teams that traveled through eight states of the South to distribute posters bearing the likenesses of missing children, including the three boys.

Nellie Flippo, right, reacts to a speech made by Tanya Zuvers while holding her daughter Claudia Flippo, left, who was friends with Alex Skelton, during a prayer vigil in Morenci's Wakefield Park near the three trees that were planted in honor of the Skelton brothers, Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5, who have been missing since last Thanksgiving Day.  Nellie Flippo, right, reacts to a speech made by Tanya Zuvers while holding her daughter Claudia Flippo, left, who was friends with Alex Skelton, during a prayer vigil in Morenci's Wakefield Park near the three trees that were planted in honor of the Skelton brothers, Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5, who have been missing since last Thanksgiving Day.
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The two teams were sponsored by General Motors Co. and both were on hand in the park with 2011 Chevrolet Camaros.

Also Sunday, three trees were planted in Wakefield Park in honor of the boys. Tanya Zuvers said the first tree was donated by R&W Nursery in Morenci. News of the donated tree prompted a couple from Royal Oak, Mich., to sponsor two more trees so each boy has one. A large rock will bear a plaque with a photograph taken of the boys when they went camping at Harrison Lake State Park.

Ms. Zuvers said the choice of a Brandywine maple for the boys was appropriate because of its brilliant fall colors.

"It's going to get deep, deep red and then almost to a very dark purple. We chose that tree when they told us the color because the fall is one of the boys' and our favorite times of the year," Ms. Zuvers said, recounting a "super-happy" memory of the camping trip just a month before their disappearance, when they enjoyed walks through the woods.

She said the plaque will be engraved with the date the boys disappeared and "the date that the resolution takes place."

"Words can't begin to describe what all of you and this community means to me and my family," she said.

Beverly Zuvers quoted from the Bible and of its admonition about letting go of anger, along with its warning of judgment to come.

"We must pray that John Skelton allows God to soften his heart and convince him that he has no other choice than to come forward with where Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner are," Mrs. Zuvers said. "We are not disappointed with the legal system. John is in prison where he belongs, but that man, [Police] Chief Larry Weeks, standing in the middle of you will not give up until he finds those three boys."

Flyers that have been distributed throughout the nation by Team GM and Team Chevy during a prayer vigil in Wakefield Park near the three trees planted in honor of the Skelton brothers. Flyers that have been distributed throughout the nation by Team GM and Team Chevy during a prayer vigil in Wakefield Park near the three trees planted in honor of the Skelton brothers.
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As she shared her memory, Courtney Derby recounted that the boys always wanted to help her wash her car, and recalled one specific occasion when they doused her with water from the bucket and the hose. "It was really hard this summer every time I washed my car and they weren't there to help me," she said.

Skelton was sentenced Sept. 15 in Lenawee County Circuit Court in Adrian to 10 to 15 years in prison after pleading no contest to unlawful imprisonment.

Police said early on that they suspected he killed his children and have said tracking of his cell phone put him near Holiday City in Williams County, Ohio, about 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving.

Skelton's claims that he turned the boys over to an underground sanctuary have been ridiculed as lies by law enforcement authorities. He and their mother had been going through a contentious divorce. She had exclusive custody but agreed to let the boys visit him for Thanksgiving if he returned them the next day.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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